Pope Francis’s acceptance of Cardinal Donald W. Wuerl’s resignation from the See of Washington, DC, we see an unmistakable pattern emerging. By accepting Wuerl’s resignation, but also keeping him on as Apostolic Administrator, the Pope shows he is working to a particular modus operandi.
There seem to be three basic steps: (1) ignore criticism and impugn critics’ motives; (2) when that becomes impracticable make a big show of doing something, without actually doing much of anything; (3) if necessary, remove a high-profile figure, but not really.
With Cardinal Wuerl, Pope Francis has done exactly this: he is officially out, and also officially in.
The Pope’s letter expresses support for Cardinal Wuerl and confidence in his record of leadership. It also indicates reluctance to accept the resignation. “You have sufficient elements to ‘justify’ your actions and what it means to cover up crimes or not to deal with problems, and to commit some mistakes,” Pope Francis writes. “However, your nobility has led you not to choose this way of defense,” he continues. “Of this, I am proud, and thank you.”
The New York Times reports Wuerl as saying he expects to keep his roles in various powerful dicasteries, including the Congregation for Bishops.
The Pope did something very similar in his management of the dust-up at his Secretariat Dicastery for Communication and in his handling of the crisis in Chile.
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